How to Write Concise and Effective Messages
If you need to write a message for business, be it an email, a white paper, or a text for the web, you want it to get you the desired response. Writing takes time and effort. To make sure that your text is effective, consider its rhetorical situation: reader, writer, text, and content. Let’s review this concept in more general terms and look at an example of a rhetorical situation such as a job application.
Every text has a target audience. Analyze and describe yours before you start writing. What do you know about the target readers’ problems and schedules? Are they busy and have just a few seconds to read your message? How do they read: do they skim for key phrases or do they read for specific details? Do they read on small or larger screens? What assumptions might they have about you, your service, your products?
What is your unique value proposition? What distinguishes you among others? What makes you credible and how do you choose to highlight your credibility? What kind of a response are you hoping to get? Do you want to start a conversation, close a sale, get a job interview? What is your attitude, tone, or approach like? Choose your words carefully and remember that your readers’ time is limited. Your tone is a reflection of your values.
Get to the point quickly without being curt. Provide just enough background information. In an email or a blog post, this may be just one sentence. Tell your reader exactly why you’re writing. In an online article, this may include a preview of the article’s main points. Ensure that white space is used well to balance the cognitive load. Ask questions directly instead of lengthy statements. Summarize key points at the end if you’re writing informative pieces for broader audiences. Be mindful of the text’s structure, tone, and visual appeal.
Think about the situation in which you encountered your reader. What do you have in common? What do you both know about the project at hand? What should you remember about the current trends in the market or the situation you’re navigating?
I will now use a job seeker’s resume as an example of a rhetorical situation.
An HR professional or a recruiter gets 100-200 resumes per job ad. This reader takes around 6 seconds to skim applications and decide whether to discard a resume or to invite a candidate for an interview.
A job applicant is a highly qualified and motivated individual, ready to meet the target employer and start delivering value in the new role. This person is willing to follow up before and after the interview and submit other materials (additional career documents, PowerPoint presentations, etc.) to get the job. The writer knows that the job application is not about them, it’s about what the employer gets. If the writer is offered a job, they will have a chance to negotiate salary and work conditions.
The applicant’s resume has a clear structure, enough white space, concise text focused on achievements, effective headers, and contact information. The applicant’s cover letter is not generic; it’s written specifically for the target employer, showing the applicant’s understanding of this employer’s needs and ability to meet them. A resume is usually two full pages long; a cover letter usually has three short body paragraphs.
The applicant knows the industry trends, salaries, and the training required. They are prepared to follow up, negotiate, and show knowledge of the industry in correspondence and interviews. The applicant is also aware of any economic or political trends impacting hiring at the moment, but is focused on the positive outcome and the value they can deliver for a target employer.
What non-essential elements of your message can you remove the next time you draft one?
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